Climbing the Language Barrier

While language learning has always been a huge passion of mine, over the last three years I have been actively learning the art of aerial dance. While this initially started out as just a hobby over the last year and a half I have been competing in aerial dance competitions and showcases in a few different states in the U.S. and it’s an experience that I wouldn’t give up for anything.

Even a language barrier that terrified me.

Once I learned that I was going to be able to study abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia I was pretty excited for the opportunities that this would also provide for my hobby because I was already aware of the aerial community that existed here. I kept dreaming and dreaming of learning new tricks and techniques from these insanely talented Russian dancers…up until I finally landed in St. Petersburg.

While I initially did decide to give myself two weeks to adjust to my new life and new schedule I kept putting off finding a new studio week after week. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I finally had a talk with myself and realized that the main reason that I was putting this off was because I was terrified of the language barrier. I wasn’t even afraid of accidentally slipping and falling (I’ve done that plenty of times before) I was afraid of having to go in and interact and somehow get myself on the schedule. I also realized that this was affecting my overall motivation and mood and felt myself being more prone to stronger bouts of depression. I finally decided to give myself a swift kick in the pants and found a studio (after wandering around the building for about a half hour). Yes, the interaction to just to get myself set up for a trial class was just as awkward as I anticipated, but I learned that I understood a lot more than I thought I would. I definitely fumbled with my responses, but after I was scheduled for a class, I cannot explain what a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

When the time came to actually go to the class, I was definitely nervous and was having second thoughts, but I found that the class was a lot easier to follow along and that I could easily understand what I needed to do in the host language. I had SO much fun and learned new variations of tricks that I had learned in the U.S. and even got to share some tricks that these dancers hadn’t seen before. After the class had ended and I was leaving the building I was feeling sweaty, tired, incredibly sore, but SO accomplished in that I got back into my hobby and was able to do it in another language. Sure, I felt like a newborn fawn, stumbling around at first, but that feeling passed quickly.

So what kind of advice can I offer for students who have a hobby or activity that they are incredibly passionate about while studying abroad? JUST. DO. IT. I realize that sounds like the Nike slogan, but in all seriousness, don’t let the fear of a language barrier get to you. Of course, it’s terrifying to go up to a desk with your limited Russian and trying to finagle your way through buying a class pass and setting up your schedule, but it’s not worth sacrificing your happiness and self-confidence for. To be honest, I’ve even found that I enjoy my classes here in Russia more than in the U.S.. The classes are smaller, that means more one-on-one time with the teacher and everyone is really nice and welcoming. On top of that, learning your craft in another language really teaches you to pay attention to what you’re doing. I’ve noticed that I have to pay closer attention to hand and foot placement in my Russian dance classes more than I do when taking these classes in my native language. It made me realize that I kind of reached a point in my aerial dance “career” where I’d occasionally cheat myself to get to a new move or one that I’ve had a handle on for a long time. Also, training with Russians is no joke! If you ever have the opportunity to pursue a hobby or sport with them, do it. Sure, it’ll really hurt the first few classes, but you’ll see progress and having strong and strict instructors is really great.

I’d like to say one last thing. Don’t forget that you’ll need something to keep you grounded during those times during study abroad where you don’t feel motivated, when you feel like there’s just a constant fog over your brain, or when you feel like you just can’t do it. Honestly, I love that studio I go to makes you plan your schedule a month ahead of time because it sets up a schedule for me to keep myself grounded and motivated as best I can. Keep active or find something creative to do, it’s worth all the awkward interactions and misunderstandings in the long run!

By: Alicia Baca

Program: Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program

Term: Fall 2017


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